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Leadership is Often Seeing Opportunity in Crisis

In the fall of 1793 Philadelphia was in the throes of a Yellow Fever epidemic that ultimately killed 5,000 residents. Richard Allen, minister, educator, and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, saw in the crisis an opportunity to preserve the infected city and transcend racial stereotypes. He and members of his church wandered the city, entering boarded up homes of white people where neighbors would not venture. They tended the sick, buried the dead, and burned infected furnishings. In the face of city-wide paralysis, these Black Christians risked their lives in Christian kindness. Following the epidemic, Allen defended the actions of his black congregants against scurrilous charges, and used the occasion of black mercy toward whites to advocate for abolition and equal rights. His actions through the epidemic and after point to leadership that is creative and spontaneous, writes Richard Newman, associate professor of history at Rochester Institute of Technology.

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Race is a reality that profoundly affects congregational life throughout the United States, and there is a growing desire among...

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